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Ludwig Leichhardt given 40,000 feet honour

written by | November 3, 2014
Qantas Boeing 737-800, named Leichhardt, at its christening ceremony on October 28. (Matt Tesch)
Qantas Boeing 737-800, named Leichhardt, at its christening ceremony on October 28. (Matt Tesch)

Australian landmarks bearing the name of German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt will now include one at 40,000 feet, after Qantas christened a Boeing 737-800 aircraft in his honour.

Tributes to the the legendary explorer, whose first expedition, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, took place 170 years ago this year, already appear on some of the nation’s roads, rivers, mountain ranges and national parks.

There are also suburbs in Sydney and Ipswich, Queeensland, while the federal electorate of Leichhardt is in in northern Queensland.


However, Leichhardt was not among the list of Australian explorers to have a jet airliner named after him.

That changed on October 28 2014 when the Qantas narrow body with registration VH-XZO was christened Leichhardt at the airline’s Brisbane maintenance facility.

Leichhardt’s great-great-grand-nephew, also named Ludwig, and the President of the German Parliament, Dr Norbert Lammert, were on hand to participate in the official naming ceremony.

“Ludwig Leichhardt could not have imagined that it could be possible to overcome distances in hours where he took months,” Dr Lammert said at the christening ceremony.


“This plane is launched in the spirit of Ludwig Leichhardt – the spirit of knowledge, curiosity and ambition.”

Four sets of hands christen the aircraft Leichhardt. (Robyn Muche)
Four sets of hands christen the aircraft Leichhardt. (Robyn Muche)

The christening used water collected from the Dawson River, near Taroom in central Queensland. The area was discovered and named by Leichhardt during his first expedition in October 1844.

Artist Matt Tesch, who led the push to have a Qantas aircraft named after Leichhardt, said Qantas’s domestic predecessor Trans Australia Airlines named aircraft to celebrate the achievements of various explorers.

“In the 42 years of TAA’s existence – before it became Australian Airlines and then part of Qantas – the famous names on its aircraft were the great stories of European discovery of the Fifth Continent. These people were fundamental to every school student when I was growing up [and] TAA made much publicity of this. Over that time, there were five aircraft named John Forrest, four Thomas Mitchells, three James Cooks and John Oxleys, two Abel Tasmans and a Paul Strezlecki – to name just a few,” Tesch said.

However, Leichhardt’s achievements were not recognised with his name on the side of a jet airliner.

“I am delighted that Qantas has addressed this small but significant omission from Australian aviation history,” Tesch said.

“The 19th century Leichhardt remains in Australia to this day, he and his party having disappeared in 1848 during a further attempt to traverse the continent from east to west.”

VH-XZO, which was delivered to Qantas on October 6, entered revenue service on October 11.

More information of Leichhardt’s expeditions can be found on this website.

Ludwig Leichhardt's great-grand-nephew, also named Ludwig, on the flight deck. (Robyn Muche)
Ludwig Leichhardt’s great-great-grand-nephew, also named Ludwig, on the flight deck. (Robyn Muche)

UPDATED – the original version of this story said no TAA aircraft had been named after Leichhardt. In fact that is incorrect, AA columnist (and former TAA employee) Gordon Reid advises that TAA named DC-3 VH-TAV Leichhardt and Twin Otter VH-TGV Ludwig Leichhardt. The article has been updated to reflect that no jet aircraft had been named after Leichhardt.

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Ludwig Leichhardt given 40,000 feet honour Comment

  • Damian


    A bit disappointing that they didn’t include his first name! As I recall the TAA aircraft all had first names….they were ‘James Cook’ rather than simply ‘Cook’, ‘Joseph Banks’ rather than ‘Banks’ and ‘Charles Sturt’ rather than ‘Sturt’ etc etc. This looks almost like they intended to name the aircraft after a suburb, lake, mountain range etc and then only realised later where the name ‘Leichardt’ was actually derived from….

    A nice 1980s ‘Camel Hump’ TAA paint job with polished metal underside and Ludwigs first name would have been excellent but I suppose we will have to wait a few more weeks for a retro jet!

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